Occupy the cinema!
Free films in the midst of Occupy London
Amidst the protest camp that has sprung up in front of London’s St Paul’s cathedral over the past few weeks, a group of filmmakers have joined forces to create a space for screening films and discussion.
Housed in a large tent and aptly named Cinema Intent, their aim is to show free films spanning arthouse, mainstream and experimental that are directly and indirectly political, polemical or critical of mainstream politics and media, or else emerge from a countercultural context.
Starting off with Gasland, a documentary by Josh Fox which exposes the practice of ‘fracking’ (shorthand for hydraulic fracturing) for gas and the destruction of rural American environment it entails, they followed up with "I'M AS MAD AS HELL AND I"M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!!!”.
This programme paired two very different films nevertheless created in the same time and place: 70s New York. First off was an experimental film, Guerillere Talks by Vivienne Dick, who like Josh Fox, gave permission for her film to be screened in this context and for free. Now considered a classic of No Wave film, it was created by giving a roll of film to eight female friends of the filmmaker, resulting in portrait of and by women in the underground scene of New York’s late 70s. This was followed by the more mainstream Network, Sydney Lumet’s study of a TV network’s cynical manipulation of an ex-TV anchor for their own profit.
Oonagh Kearney, of the filmmakers involved in setting up Cinema Intent, explained that by juxtaposing films that don’t tend to get shown together for institutional reasons, thematic crossovers can be highlighted while challenging the idea that audiences are unreceptive to watching experimental work alongside blockbusters and mass market films. Its still very rare, for example, to see films like Vivienne’s Dick’s screened in any cinema, despite her getting a retrospective at the Tate. This effectively keeps experimental films in a niche audience bracket, under the assumption that ‘mainstream’ audiences won’t ‘get it’.
The communal aspect of the screenings is also important to the organisers, who pointed out the difference between watching a film by yourself in a distracted, half-attentive way on your laptop, as opposed to with a group of other people. This is especially true when the audience sticks around for conversation afterwards, as this involves an active, involved viewing and discussion rather than a passive consumption of entertainment.
Intentionally or not, collective, social viewing could be seen as a reflection of the ethos of the camp, which resists the individualism first championed by Thatcher but very much alive and well today. Its exactly the self-serving “no such thing as society” attitude which is being contested by the protest, who are trying, amongst other things, to highlight the way that capitalism creates huge wealth imbalances which benefit only a tiny proportion of the world’s population at the expense of the many.
Reflecting the ad hoc, mercurial nature of the camp, where the situation fluctuates day to day as the police, the church, the media and the protesters negotiate the occupation of St Paul’s, Cinema Intent is a fluid and flexible concept. They welcome film suggestions from the public and are happy to create dialogue with other filmmakers about what to show and why.
Already suggestions have poured in, and in honour of Guy Fawkes Day on November 5th, the cinema will be showing V for Vendetta, followed by Sunday's programme